Friday, October 2, 2009

Kung-Fu Cinema: Legend Status?

A little while back I decided that I wanted to get into kung-fu movies.  Straightforward enough...yet deceptively complicated, because damn there are a lot of them, released under numerous aliases and with various crappy original language and dub audio tracks.  I started here, an article I found very helpful as a primer...the legend continues, as they say. Keep in mind that I'm speaking about these films from a perspective of almost no prior knowledge and experience.  So far I'm just working with what Netflix has available...

OK so I have to admit I'm slowing down.  I sense my excitement over the genre growing a little thin.  Maybe I'll be rejuvenated when I eventually watch Shaolin vs. Vampire (one of a series of  kung-fu-fighter-versus-classic-movie-monster films!).

I watched Kung Fu Hustle. It's a modern kung fu flick, popular enough that I had heard of it already, and it was pretty awesome. 

Premise = standard issue.  Backwater Chinese village contains some serious kung fu masters that only show their true skill after the bitter melon hits the wok when a bunch of gangsters start harassing them something fierce.  

Execution = masterful. The flick is something like a cross between the Matrix and classic Looney Tunes, which is gotta be something one rarely says about a film.  Stephen Chow (actor, writer, director) plays a wannabe kung fu gangster who gets all tangled up in the townspeople and the oppression being inflicted thereupon...

A lot of kung fu movies (I'm now finding) have a strong element of magic to them...the implication being that really killer kung fu allows for impossible physical manipulations and wire tricks during the heat of combat.  This movie is all about crazy CG-effect wackness and inconceivable-to-the-point-of-hilarious fight techniques.  I reckon Stephen Chow was trying to poke fun, pay tribute, and to modernize the stuff he dug as a kid (sorta like the QT Grindhouse thing, or Kill Bill for that matter). Here's a cool example scene where some badass assassins are sent to lay daisies over some other (some might argue equally badass) dudes...

Kung Fu Hustle is a really fun movie.  It pays homage to the older stuff but also has a lot of fun with modern special effects during the (numerous) fight sequences.  I was consistently reminded of Super Smash Bros. in an extremely fond and pleasant way.  Very watchable.  Rent this now.

Iceberg rating = 1950/1951 Rabbit Seasons

Next up, Legendary Weapons of China. This one's about a sinister emperor who's looking for sammies with kung fu so clutch they can stop bullets to the chest.  However in this film the magic isn't really working out so well and basically a bunch of good fighters are just being executed on some maniacal imperial whim.  Then one of the trainers decides it's all for nought and disowns the practice of shooting painstakingly well-trained guys point blank in the chest and watching them die, so some assassins get sent out to look for him and kill him for his treasonous conscience. The fight sequences center around the various uses of the 18 "legendary" weapons of china. 

I was excited about this film cause I knew that the 3-section staff would get a workout.

I know this guy! 

Again the plot centers around people not being sure which person is a kung fu master and which ones are just schlubs going about their thursday.  Gordon Liu is in this (from 36 Chambers) and that made me happy, but he's more of a minor player here.  It was fun, but sort of long and needlessly complicated.  Maybe it's because I watched it on Saturday morning though when my brain was half in the bag.  Anyway...the coolness is definitely in the fact that they make use of all the weapons on the list, particularly in the final fight scene.  There's also some interesting choreography where one fighter is being controlled via voodoo doll from the sidelines.

Iceberg Rating = 1.7 out of 3 sections on that staff

Next Up:  ?????